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Volume 18, Number 18, April 28, 2004

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Corrupt "Oil For Food" Under U.N. Investigation

An independent U.N. panel will conduct an inquiry into allegations of impropriety in the administration and management of the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme.

The panel is to be chaired by Paul A. Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System. Its other two members are Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, who previously served as the Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and Mark Pieth of Switzerland, a Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Basel with expertise in money-laundering.

The panel will have the authority to:

  1. Investigate whether the procedures established by the UN for the administration and management of the Programme were violated;

  2. Determine whether any United Nations officials, personnel, agents or contractors engaged in any illicit or corrupt activities in the carrying out of their respective roles in relation to the Programme, and; 

  3. Determine whether the accounts of the Programme were in order and were maintained in accordance with UN regulations and rules. 

The members of the independent panel will have the authority to access all relevant United Nations records and information, written or unwritten, and to interview all relevant United Nations officials and personnel. The panel is authorized to obtain records and interviews from persons unaffiliated with the UN who may have knowledge relevant to the inquiry, including allegations of impropriety. It is also authorized to seek cooperation from UN Member States to conduct its inquiry. The Security Council today adopted unanimously a resolution welcoming the appointment of the panel and calling upon the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Iraq and all other Member States – including their national regulatory authorities – to fully cooperate with the inquiry.

Within three months of the initiation of its work, the panel should provide the Secretary-General with a status report of its work. The Secretary General has stated that he will employ his authority so that the Organization's privileges and immunities do not impede efforts to hold accountable those who have engaged in unacceptable conduct.

"Obviously, these are serious allegations which we take seriously, and this is why we’ve put together a very serious group to investigate it," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week. "The organization will take whatever steps may be appropriate to address the issues raised by the inquiry. We have assembled a group of respected individuals that I hope will complete its work as soon as practicable."

"As to the impact on our activities in Iraq, I hope the Iraqis realize that even if there have been wrongdoings by certain members on the U.N. staff, the United Nations as a whole, did make a genuine effort to fill in their humanitarian needs," he added. "There were hundreds of U.N. staff who worked very hard and diligently to establish the food distribution system and ensure that supplies did go in and, I think, that positive aspect of it should not be overlooked either."

The panel’s report is to be made public once completed.

Anan says 'Don't blame U.N. and the Secretariat'

In candid remarks made last Thursday to a press scrum, the U.N. Secretary General said, "I think it is unfortunate that there have been so many allegations, and some of it is being handled as if they were facts, and this is why we need to have this investigation done."

Anan pointed out that despite some corruption of the process, much good was accomplished through the programme and that some elements of its infrastructure may be helpful for planned elections.

"And in all this what has been lost is the fact that the Oil-for-Food Programme did provide relief to the Iraqi population;" added Anan, "every household was touched. With the government, we set up one of the best distribution systems, to such an extent that even some suggested we should use the distribution cards for elections, to show you how pervasive [it was]. So that should not be overlooked. The fact that there may have been wrongdoing by a few, should not destroy the work that many hard working U.N. staff did.

"And secondly," he continued, "if the Iraqi government has smuggled oil and done all sorts of things, I don't think it is fair to lump it all together and blame the U.N. and the Secretariat. Because there are things that were definitely beyond our control, not only the Secretariat, but even the Member States. And so, once the issues have been looked at and separated, I hope people will put things in perspective and will be able to get the facts out. And I'm very keen on Mr. [Paul] Volcker, Judge [Richard] Goldstone and Mr. [Mark] Pieth to really get to work and give us a report as soon as possible."

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